MIAMI (AP) –– Not easy. But over.
For the first time since 2006, the Miami Heat have won a playoff series – and, finally, can start thinking in earnest about another showdown with the Boston Celtics.
Dwyane Wade scored 26 points, Chris Bosh added 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals by topping Philadelphia 97-91 on Wednesday night and ousting the 76ers in five games.
Mario Chalmers scored 20 points off the bench and LeBron James finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for Miami. Joel Anthony made a pair of free throws with 16.8 seconds left for the Heat, who will face Boston starting Sunday afternoon in Miami.
It’s the first series win for the Heat since the 2006 NBA finals.
Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand each scored 22 points for Philadelphia, which got 13 from Thaddeus Young, 12 from Jodie Meeks and 10 from Jrue Holiday.
And like four of the other five games in this series, it wasn’t easy for the Heat, who saw a double-digit lead cut to one in the final minute before hanging on to advance.
Philadelphia had a chance to tie with 1:10 left, but Evan Turner’s baseline jumper bounced off the rim and James grabbed his 10th rebound – marking the first time the Heat had three double-digit rebounders in the same playoff game since the title-clinching Game 6 of the 2006 NBA finals at Dallas.
Wade made a 3-pointer with 8:34 left, pumped his fist on his way up the sideline, and Miami was up 81-71. He crossed Iguodala over twice for baskets later in the period, each of those giving the Heat eight-point leads.
Philadelphia simply would not go away. The Sixers got within two on three occasions and – helped by a technical foul assessed by Steve Javie against Wade with 51 seconds left, cut Miami’s lead to one point at 90-89 and again at 92-91.
Anthony swished a pair of free throws with 16.8 seconds left, restoring the three-point edge. Iguodala missed on Philadelphia’s next possession, and Miami finally escaped.
Wade capped it with a dunk with a half-second left, as white seat covers got tossed around the arena triumphantly by the sellout crowd. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Sixers coach Doug Collins shared a warm handshake moments later, most of the two rosters exchanged quick hugs, and then Miami retreated back to its locker room for what was surely a quick celebration.
After all, Boston awaits.
James created a bit of a stir before the game – by, of all things, quoting rapper Jay-Z.
Asked after Miami’s morning shootaround practice about the need to finish Philadelphia off on Wednesday to allow time to finally start preparing for Boston, James said the Heat were focusing on, “just finishing our breakfast,” the lyric Jay-Z used.
Collins shrugged it off as “an analogy.” But some Sixers seemed to take offense at the comment – Lou Williams was giving teammates various breakfast-item nicknames before the game, saying some were fruit salad, others flapjacks.
Maybe it was no coincidence that James was nearly held to another breakfast food – a bagel, otherwise known as 0 points – in the first half. He had only three points at intermission, matching his playoff career low, and the stage was set for another down-to-the-wire night.
Much of Miami’s emphasis on Tuesday and before the game Wednesday was on starting more quickly. Still, for the fourth time in five games, Philadelphia had Miami in a double-digit hole in the opening quarter.
The Sixers made nine of their first 11 shots, running out to leads of 16-5 and 20-10 – before, as was the case throughout the series, the first substitutions for Miami started paying dividends.
Chalmers made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in 7 1/2 minutes off the bench in the first quarter, his scoring total matching the combined efforts from Wade, James and Bosh in the period. Philadelphia missed eight of its final nine shots of the quarter, and Miami peeled off 14 straight points before settling on a 27-23 lead going into the second.
The offensive sputters continued into halftime.
Philadelphia shot 39 percent in the second – which was superior to Miami’s 6-for-23, 26-percent showing. Still, the Heat only trailed for 24 seconds in the period, and Wade’s 18-footer from the left wing over Brand put Miami up 45-42 at the break.
James scored 10 points in the third, hitting jumpers on Miami’s last two possessions, helping the Heat take a 72-67 edge into the fourth. By then, it was already heated, with no shortage of physical play at both ends.
James argued he got fouled near the basket on consecutive possessions, to no avail, and Spoelstra earned a technical from referee Tony Brothers for protesting one of those non-calls a bit too excessively.
NOTES: Philadelphia’s combined scoring margin over Miami’s starters to open games grew to 92-50 for the series, after a 14-4 start on Wednesday. … A pregame moment of silence was held to remember Jim Mandich, the Miami Dolphins player and broadcaster who died Tuesday night of complications from bile duct cancer. Mandich was close with several Heat officials, including Pat Riley. … James accepted April’s Player of the Month award in a brief halftime ceremony.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)